Sonoma Stories: Peace-justice activist Mary Moore donates personal archive to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library
Mary Moore’s tree-dwarfed cabin in the Occidental suburb of Camp Meeker is stacked and adorned with fat binders, aged periodicals, books, pamphlets and forceful political posters that champion the revolutionary or anti-capitalist or progressive take on about every issue imaginable.
Perhaps Sonoma County’s most enduring left-wing activist, Moore has agitated against - to name a few of the concerns - racism, sexism, classism, nuclear power, capital punishment, economic segregation, violence by police, abuse of workers, immigration crackdowns, Zionism and war.
The 83-year-old former Fiesta Queen of San Luis Obispo has promoted and defended civil rights protections. She has sought justice for Andy Lopez, Oscar Grant and Judi Bari and voiced support for Bernie Sanders, Colin Kaepernick, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, the Dreamers, the Palestinians, Standing Rock protesters, revolts against imperialism, greater distribution of wealth and global equal treatment for all who are oppressed or marginalized.
Through it all, said Moore, “I’ve always been a saver.”
She still has the treatise on racial prejudice that she wrote in 1953, for her 12th-grade civics class. It was inspired by what she’d witnessed earlier that year on a road trip through the segregated South with her late father, Alvin Rhodes, who was long the superintendent of San Luis Obispo County schools.
He was no radical firebrand. He was “very gentle and kind, moderate,” Moore said. But while in the South on the long drive from central California to a conference in Washington, D.C., he would not stop to eat at a segregated restaurant.
Observing that, his daughter said, “I learned to take a stand.”
“I credit him a lot with setting me on that road.”
The experience on the father-and-daughter, cross-country drive produced the former Mary Katherine Rhodes’ civics class composition on prejudice based on race.
“I guess you could call that the first binder,” she said. Her collection of topical binders grew to more than 600.
Moore has stuffed them with newspaper, magazine and newsletter articles, opinion pieces, anything in print that she believes contributes to discourse on local, regional, national and global conflicts, struggles and dominant points of sociopolitical-economic-environmental contention.
A co-founder of the Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County and a daily email distributor of news and commentary on issues near and far, Moore amassed the paper collection as a personal reference trove and archives. Over the years, she pondered what she might do with her collection before she passes.
It was maybe 20 years ago that she connected with Theresa Salazar, curator of Western Americana at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. Salazar had heard of Moore and her collection from Gaye LeBaron, the vastly published Berkeley graduate, Press Democrat columnist and history author.
A couple of times, Salazar drove up to see Moore’s collection. But she never took anything.
Finally, one day last week, Salazar returned to Camp Meeker with two colleagues, a small van and a load of empty cartons. Salazar and her helpers toured Moore’s cabin and outbuildings, and they eagerly filled and hauled off 15 boxes.
“Mary is an international citizen,” Salazar said. “She is interested in so many things.”
The curator is most keen for Moore’s ephemera - the posters, flyers and articles that accompanied local and regional protests, campaigns and movements, and that would have been discarded were it not for Moore’s predilection to save.
Such materials “are meant to serve an immediate purpose - sometimes they’re lost,” Salazar said.
She took all of Moore’s papers on the Bohemian Grove Midsummer Encampment, the exclusive, male-only retreat that takes place each year beneath the redwoods near Monte Rio, just up Bohemian Highway from Moore’s place.
The activist founded the Bohemian Grove Action Network in 1980 to mount demonstrations at the camp gate and highlight what she regards as the perils to the world and its people by cabals of political and corporate elites.
Salazar “took all of the Bohemian Grove stuff,” Moore said. “She got all of the Judi Bari stuff.”
Bari was the dogged North Coast environmental and labor activist and Earth First organizer critically injured when a pipe bomb exploded in her car as she and partner Darryl Cherney traveled through Oakland in May 1990.
No one has ever been charged with placing the bomb. Bari died from complications of breast cancer in 1997.
Moore decided not to donate to the Bancroft Museum - not yet, anyway - her files on Oakland’s Black Panther Party and founding member Elbert “Big Man” Howard.
“I’m not ready to let Big Man go,” Moore said.
Howard, a longtime friend and comrade, died in Santa Rosa in July at the age of 80.
Salazar said she will return for more archives as Moore becomes ready to part with them. She said Moore is remarkable for the steadfast commitment to her collection and advocacy for a more just world.
She told Moore while they sat in her small, politically appointed living room that her archives will not be scattered among other records and assets of the Western Americana Collection.
“They will go under your name,” Salazar said. “They will be called the Mary Moore Papers.”
That is, of course, pleasing to someone who has pushed for a more just and humane world since witnessing racial segregation 65 years ago.
“I know I’m going to be remembered for the Bohemian Grove, and that’s fine,” she said. However, her primary focus has not been capitalist exploitation of the world and its people but racism, which she has long viewed as inseparable from sexism and classism.
“We need to fight them as one ism,” she said.
What sort of alternative does Moore envision to systems in which most of the power and wealth is wielded by an elite few?
“It’s too simplistic to just socialism,” she said. “That means such different things to different people.”
She imagines a culture in which true justice is fundamental and no one is enriched and empowered at the expense of others.
“It has to be from the heart,” she said.
After all these years of saving papers that relate to her quest for a more just and peaceful planet, it wasn’t easy for Moore to give up to Salazar and her assistants even a small portion of the binders and posters and whatnot.
“I felt like I was letting go of some of my babies when they drove off,” she said.
But she trusts that at the Bancroft Library they will be in good hands.
You can contact Chris Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.